05 Oct 2018

Case IH has proven its commitment to developing autonomous equipment that will help boost farming efficiencies and enhance the lives of farm staff, by defining the categories of autonomy and announcing a pilot program introducing the technology onto farms.

Since revealing the Autonomous Concept Vehicle (ACV) to the world at global agricultural exhibitions during 2016 and 2017, Case IH engineers have been working on incorporating its technologies into today’s machines. That’s being done not only to help farmers gain from the efficiencies they can bring to agriculture, but also to relieve staff from long hours and repetitive tasks, answer the challenge of finding skilled labour, and free up more time for detailed field management by existing labour.

Discussions with customers around the world have helped to define exactly how autonomous technology can be implemented for maximum benefit in their operations. Through an Autonomy and Automation Program, this has led to pilot schemes developing autonomous technology in real-life scenarios.

“While the unveiling of the autonomous concept vehicle in 2016 showed the world what’s possible, it was just that — a concept,” says Robert Zemenchik, Case IH AFS global product manager.

“The ACV provided a platform for us to start discussions with farmers and the industry about the technology needed for high-efficiency farming operations today and in the future. We’re ready to show how automation and autonomy applies across agriculture and how it can advance the precision farming solutions our customers are currently using on their farms.”

Autonomous technology is not about replacing labour, but about allowing best use to be made of its talents when managing crops and livestock. It provides the opportunity to redeploy staff into value-added and more challenging and rewarding tasks such as analysis, planning and close-up attention to husbandry, reconnecting them with the farm’s fields and animals.

In addition, autonomous technology can support tasks such as crop establishment which need to be completed during critical time windows, when limited skilled labour is available. Autonomous machines have the potential to work 24 hour days where possible or required, with no variation in productivity. As result they are able complete more work in less time, with full integration of precision farming benefits such as variable input use. Case IH began providing farmers with precision and automation technology in the 1990s, with AFS AccuGuide auto-guidance, and it continues today with more advanced solutions, such as AFS AccuTurn automated headland turning technology.

With the ACV, owners and operators have the possibility to continuously monitor the tractor whenever they need and from wherever they are, interacting as required for enhanced operational efficiency. For example, should changes in operating parameters – such as an alteration to seed rate – become essential, or forecasts suggest the weather may change, autonomous technology allows a machine’s operating pattern to be modified automatically without requiring direct human intervention. This leads to potential financial gains including higher productivity and efficiency, which can lead to further rewards such as more timely and consistent field operations, with consequent benefits for both yields and crop quality. Direct cost savings will vary and are contingent on specific operations, says Mr Zemenchik, but he gives examples such as the potential for greater equipment utilisation, improved in-field efficiency from accurate path planning, and improved labour productivity as the physical burden on staff is reduced.

Accuracy and attention to detail in business management is becoming ever more important in modern agriculture, and data management and analysis is essential for successful farming businesses. With autonomous technology, Case IH is striving to support those needs, reducing the need for hours in the cab, freeing up time for business management – where AFS precision farming technologies are already well-established – and reducing the workload burden on farmers and farm staff. Just as with the very first agricultural machines, autonomous technology is simply another step on the road to making agricultural work more about brain power than body power – and more pleasurable and rewarding as a result.